Bombshell: Time for a "pause" on this massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, says Manchin

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

First he did it with H.R. 1, now he’s done it again with the reconciliation mega-bill.

Joe Manchin dropping an op-ed out of the blue that instantly detonates progressives’ fondest hopes and dreams is my favorite modern legislative tradition.

I don’t think he’s nuking the libs with this, though, just haggling with them over the price tag. He’ll pass something for them eventually.

But it won’t be a $3.5 trillion package. And they’re very, very unhappy about that this afternoon.

This piece is more fiscally conservative than anything I’ve read from a Republican pol since the tea-party era:

An overheating economy has imposed a costly “inflation tax” on every middle- and working-class American. At $28.7 trillion and growing, the nation’s debt has reached record levels. Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent more than $5 trillion responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Democratic congressional leaders propose to pass the largest single spending bill in history with no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises. Ignoring the fiscal consequences of our policy choices will create a disastrous future for the next generation of Americans

Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation. A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not. While some have suggested this reconciliation legislation must be passed now, I believe that making budgetary decisions under artificial political deadlines never leads to good policy or sound decisions. I have always said if I can’t explain it, I can’t vote for it, and I can’t explain why my Democratic colleagues are rushing to spend $3.5 trillion…

Inflation continues to rise and is bleeding the value of Americans’ wages and income. More than 10.1 million jobs remain open. Our economy, as the Biden administration has correctly pointed out, has reached record levels of quarterly growth. This positive economic reality makes clear that the purpose of the proposed $3.5 trillion in new spending isn’t to solve urgent problems, but to re-envision America’s social policies. While my fellow Democrats will disagree, I believe that spending trillions more dollars not only ignores present economic reality, but makes it certain that America will be fiscally weakened when it faces a future recession or national emergency.

“I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs,” he says at one point. He wants a new topline number *and* he wants lefties to slow down. Which is … interesting, because Pelosi is up against a self-imposed deadline of September 27 to bring both this bill and the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed three weeks ago to the House floor for a vote. That deadline came about after moderates in her caucus clamored for a vote soon-ish on the bipartisan bill and she was forced to make a concession. Now here’s Manchin potentially blowing up the timeline.

Have I mentioned that the centrist House Dems who got Pelosi to agree to a September 27 vote were being advised by, er, Joe Manchin? Lefties are going to wonder if he didn’t screw them here by getting Pelosi to commit to a vote on the bipartisan bill, only to turn around and sabotage the reconciliation bill after she did. Now Pelosi faces a hard decision on whether to hold a vote on the standalone bipartisan bill, which will enrage the left, or to hold back the bipartisan bill, which will enrage the centrists. Either move jeopardizes Biden’s plans for big-ticket domestic spending.

“Manchin Threatens To Derail Entire Democratic Agenda With Spending Squeamishness,” reads the headline this afternoon at lefty site TPM, which goes on to note that Manchin’s leverage play “could also end Democrats’ chance to meaningfully legislate for years.” That’s true. And progressives are irate:

They won’t vote for the bipartisan bill without the reconciliation bill. Pelosi could still pass the bipartisan bill, however, with a combination of centrist Dems and Republican votes. Would McCarthy be willing to supply those votes?

And would Pelosi be willing to put that bill on the floor over the objections of lefties, knowing that doing so would destroy their leverage to get the reconciliation bill passed? They’d never forgive her. But if Manchin’s going to insist on a shrunken reconciliation package that the left can’t come to terms with, the bipartisan bill will be Biden’s only chance at another major domestic achievement. Biden might want her to do it. What does she do?

As for Manchin, he’s strategically vague about what items he wants to drop from the current bill and what he wants to keep. It’s the sticker shock to which he objects; if the left pared the bill back, presumably they could get him to yes. His concerns in the bill about inflation are also likely to draw pushback since Dems are keen to note that they’re funding the bill with pay-fors, not flooding the economy with additional money. This is the spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee that’s writing the legislation:

By the way, Manchin’s once again serving as a sort of “heat shield” for other moderates in his caucus who aren’t as politically well positioned as he is to face the left’s wrath. Kyrsten Sinema said 10 days ago that she won’t support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation deal, full stop, but the latest round of “What does Joe want now?” chatter will shift attention from her to him as the chief obstacle to a deal. Anyway, it’s Pelosi’s move now.